Environmentalist seeks action on climate change

Bill McKibben doesn’t give a damn if you buy his latest book. He wants to take on the fossil fuel industry and hold politicians accountable to save the planet. Buying a book he wrote to have it sit on a bookshelf isn’t the change he’s looking for – he’s wants you to do something.

McKibben spoke Sunday to a crowded room of environmental enthusiasts at Burlingame Hall in Sonoma.

It wasn’t a speech particularly focused on his latest book, “Oil and Honey: The Education of An Unlikely Activist,” but rather a call to action in support of 350.org. He founded the organization with seven Middlebury College undergraduates in 2008, including Sonoma native May Boeve.

The group started with a simple question: Is the world getting hotter? They decided it was, and they had to do something about it.

They formed 350.org, with 350 standing for the 350 parts per million that many scientists, climate experts and progressive governments say is the safe maximum level of carbon dioxide to have in the atmosphere. Currently the carbon dioxide level is above the safe zone at 400 parts per million, which must be lowered to return the planet to a healthy state capable of supporting life, proponents believe.

Now, both the global organization and the environmental activist and best-selling author are spreading the word – climate change affects everyone and the future of our civilization depends on how we react to it.

Sunday afternoon, McKibben stood in front of a projector and flipped through photo after photo of groups across the world uniting in 350.org campaigns to combat climate change. “This one sticks in my head the most,” he said, “it’s the smallest group that’s demonstrated in the movement but it’s so powerful.” He motioned to a photo of three children in Haiti holding signs that read, “Your actions affect me. Connect the dots.”

More people in Haiti died in Hurricane Sandy than in New York, McKibben pointed out. Alarming drops in sea levels, increases in oceanic acidity, deaths of coral reefs, massive forest fires and spikes in natural disasters are all evidence that it is time for swift action.

“The goal of 350.org is to unite a global movement to confront the power of the fossil fuel industry,” executive director Boeve said. She added that the problem is beyond the point of individual actions making a difference; people need to join up with other people and work as a community, she said. Most importantly, she urged, “Get involved and don’t lose hope.”

McKibben insists the organization’s biggest foe is the fossil fuel industry, which he takes on in his newest book, exploring why bees matter and fossil fuels don’t. McKibben describes 350.org’s fight to prevent construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, a 1,700-mile-long pipe that would transport oil from Canada tar sands to Texas refineries. The group wants to fight the world’s most lucrative industry and find a way to stop using coal and gas fuel while steadily using more renewable energy.

McKibben said it’s not a matter of whether climate change exists and how we can prevent global warming; it’s already happening, he said, with atmospheric temperatures up by one degree and projected to increase three degrees by the end of the century. “We are past the point of individual actions,” McKibben told the audience, “we need to persuade Congress and the president to do something.”

He added now is the time to hold President Barack Obama accountable for promises he made in the past election that he would fight to protect the environment. If Obama is true to his word, McKibben said, and rejects the construction of the Keystone pipeline based on the noxious amount of carbon emissions it will produce, he would be the first world leader to stop construction based on concern for the climate.

“All that we are asking for is a planet that works like the one we were born onto,” McKibben said.

He also wants older generations to get involved in the campaign, saying he doesn’t think it should be college kids having to fight and that “it’s time for elders to act like elders.”

To protest the construction of Keystone and remind Obama of his promise to combat climate change, McKibben and 350.org are asking for people to participate in a day of action on Saturday, Sept. 21.

The event, called “Draw the Line,” will take place globally with people building human lines. “They can’t build a line if you don’t come out, so be there,” McKibben said.

There will be two events in the Sonoma area, both at 9 a.m. on Saturday – one at Doran Beach with Sonoma County’s branch of 350.org; and the other in front of City Hall with local environmental group Transition Sonoma Valley. For more information, or to sign up, visit 350.org.